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Monday 08 November 2010

Rainbow Wellington meets David Huebner

Posted in: Features
By Antony Reed, from Rainbow Wellington - 26th July 2010

David Huebner
When it was first announced that New Zealand was to have a gay ambassador, Rainbow Wellington wrote to David Huebner to welcome him. We were surprised and pleased to receive a response by return of post, asking to meet us. So in December several members of the RW Board met the new Ambassador. At that time David said that he would be pleased to talk with the group as a whole once he was settled in. This meeting took place on Thursday 22nd July at the Wellesley Hotel in downtown Wellington, when David and his partner Duane met with about 40 members of Rainbow Wellington.

The event was deliberately arranged as an informal one, and US Embassy staff who were present said they had never seen the Ambassador so relaxed and candid. David set out his general strategy in the role, which is to improve NZ/US relations by meeting with a wide range of people. He clearly rejects the traditional system of meeting mostly with Government ministers and business leaders, pointing out that the main reason the US and NZ are friends is because of the activities of ordinary people meeting each other, rather than government contacts. Thus the close relationship between the peoples of the two countries never really went away during the years that the two governments were hardly speaking to each other. Certainlyif you look at his blog on the Embassy website, you see a man with very wide interest, keen to meet up with lots of different Kiwis.

One negative note was the official recognition of Duane as his spouse. Although he was the first openly gay Ambassador ever ratified by the US Senate, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) still restricts what the State Department, despite the best efforts of Hilary Clinton, can achieve. So Duane is not covered by David's health benefits. Even worse, because NZ operates under a system of reciprocity, Duane is not yet able to work in NZ. In other words, because the US does not officially recognise gay couples at Federal level (which would of course apply to any NZ diplomat in Washington), New Zealand has retaliated, even in the case of a professional psychiatrist, with qualifications and experience which we could well use to our benefit. Members present voiced their dismay at the narrowness of NZ's official attitude, but were assured that work was going on to address this situation. After all, I suppose it is a first for everybody!

Since becoming Ambassador, David has of course been seen at a number of events run by the LGBT communities, and since his arrival Duane has also been present at a number of functions. So it was particularly rewarding for Rainbow Wellington to be able to host this event specifically for David & Duane. It was a great evening which will prove to be a highlight of the year's events.

Antony Reed, from Rainbow Wellington - 26th July 2010

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